Davis Police Chief on Policing and Treatment of People of Color

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Police Blue

Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel spent over two hours presenting to the Yolo County ACLU last night at the Blanchard Room of the Davis Public Library.  Much of that time he went over things like training, body worn cameras, and other new policies of the department.

But then he addressed a key question about the state of policing and treatment of people of color by the police – in a very candid way.

He started with a story about how he would watch the TV show “Cops.”  He said, “When I was young and just starting out in law enforcement, every Saturday night I turned onto Cops and watched it.  FOX TV cameras in patrol cars taping incidents as they happen. And I kept thinking to myself, I actually do know what the Bill of Rights is and the Constitution and I kept wondering – where are they?”

“Because you can’t do it that way,” he explained.  “I watched every Saturday and I watched the Constitution being violated in a lot of ways.  It just shocked me.”

He said he eventually had to quit watching it because he would see one incident where he would react, “That use of force wasn’t justified – nor was it reasonable – and they’re putting it on national TV.  How could that agency be proud of that.  They’re ‘dirty searching people,’ they’re not doing the job the right way.”

Chief Pytel said that, watching it every Saturday, he was thinking to himself, “what the heck type of training are they getting in other states?”  He did say, “One of the things I did notice when Cops was doing ride-alongs in California, it was really different.”  He said, “That I recognize.  They were doing it pretty much the right way.”

He chalked it up to “really really bad training is going on in law enforcement across the country.”

Darren Pytel made the point that this really isn’t about one police officer.  He pointed to the body worn camera footage he sees coming off police officers across the country.  He pointed out, “You have understand these cops know they are on camera – yet it doesn’t change their behavior.  That means that’s institutionalized bad behavior.”

He said, “That’s the way they were taught, that’s the way they’ve done it, and I hate to say it, until somebody makes them fix it, that’s the way they are going to continue doing it.  Because they are doing it over and over.  They’ve no accountability, no oversight and I think that cops are just flat abusing the rules.”

He cited Milwaukee as a good example of the problem.  He reached a similar conclusion as the Vanguard here, “At the end of the day, the shooting probably was justified.  We still have to wait for the final video, to some point… but, at least on initial accounts, there was a gun there.”

Chief Pytel said, “The thing is, the community blew up anyway.  That means they’ve had a heckuva lot of problems leading up to that.”

He alluded to the report coming out of Baltimore – “Holy smokes!  Clear the corner?  How much more blatantly illegal can a police department be.  You can’t tell a bunch of people to get off the corner.  When people hang out – we can’t do that.  Everybody knows that – except for them.”

Responding to a question from the audience, he said, “My guess it’s more institutionalized than just bad training.”  He said that these departments are using tactics and policies that the profession has long since frowned upon and passed by.

He said this isn’t about a bad apple, it’s about a bad barrel.  He explained, “The departments that are facing the biggest problems – it’s not a cop.  It’s that department that’s a problem.”

“The stuff that came out of Ferguson – are you kidding me – it sounded like they were extorting the public.  I actually think that’s what they were doing,” he said.

In a follow up question from the Vanguard, Chief Pytel also acknowledged different treatment of people of color by police.

“I think we see quite a bit of evidence that is true now and historically, especially in certain regions in the country. The recent DOJ reports have certainly pointed to that. I don’t think the issue is limited to blacks. The Latinos have indicated the same thing, but are much more quiet,” he said.

He would add, “The complicating factor – and not discussed as much – is socioeconomic status and policing. As a general, but not absolute, rule, seriously depressed areas have higher crime rates. There is quite a bit of data on unemployment and serious pay disparity in minority populations. Despair and poverty can lead to addiction, gangs and crime. White homeless certainly claim disparate treatment. And many poor whites claim the same.”

He continued, “I don’t raise these issues to excuse poor or unconstitutional policing or to say that blacks and Latinos don’t have it worse. I say it because this is complicated. But these issues do lead to over-policing and conflict. The reason unconscious bias training is so important is to raise internal awareness of the bias that may lie inside of you so that actions aren’t the result of those biases.”

“Remember, everyone has biases,” he added. “Cops just can’t let them interfere with how they police.”


In the news was the Chicago Inspector General report which recommended firing seven officers for lying about the shooting death in 2014 of Laquan McDonald.  While the report is non-binding,  Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson is seeking to fire seven officers — including the partner of Officer Jason Van Dyke — for allegedly lying in their accounts of what happened in Mr. Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

In a letter to his department, he wrote, “While I know that this type of action can come with many questions and varying opinions, please know that these decisions were not made lightly.”

Deputy Chief David McNaughton retired on Monday – he was on the list of officers that the inspector general had recommended for termination.  Mr. McNaughton had found that Van Dyke’s use of force was proper. He had written that Mr. McDonald was approaching Officer Van Dyke when he was shot and the officer was in fear for his life.

Officer Walsh, Mr. Van Dyke’s partner, claimed that Mr. McDonald  continued advancing toward them, ignoring commands to drop his knife and then swung around with the knife at the officers in an “aggressive manner” when he was 12 to 15 feet away.

But video from the police vehicle painted a different story, showing that Mr. McDonald, who had a knife, was walking away from the officers — parallel to them — when he was shot 16 times by Mr. Van Dyke.  Mr. Van Dyke was charged with murder last November.

The inspector general will also look into why other officers were not also placed on desk duty, pending an investigation of their actions.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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18 thoughts on “Davis Police Chief on Policing and Treatment of People of Color”

    1. Tia Will

      I have great respect for Chief Pytel.

      I first became aware of D. Pytel on a video from the pepper spray incident. The stark contrast between good and bad policing could not have been more dramatic. We had during the same incident two clips of dramatically different police behaviors. We had the peacefully seated students being pepper sprayed by campus police in juxtaposition to a video of now Chief Pytel calmly and respectfully clearing a path through a milling throng of students occasionally exchanging a few words and smiling.

      Chief Pytel,  with his apparent view of citizens as members of his community as opposed to an enemy to be “contained” , and calm, thoughtful approach to controversial topics is in my view also a great fit for our city.

       

  1. PhillipColeman

    ” . . . and treatment of people of color by the police in a very candidate way.”  Should we delete the last three letters of “candidate.”?

    ” . . . and I kept wondering – where as they.” “Where are they” is what Darren actually said?

    Not trying to be snarky, just for precise clarification of important policy declarations being expressed the sitting Chief of Police. We all have an occasional “bad day” usually aided by sleep deficit, which I suspect is the causal factor here.

    To the point of other police administrators viewing so-called reality shows on law enforcement, I’ll add a supporting comment watching folks violate innumerable legal standards and countless police training procedures to maximize safety for all:

    “What are they doing?”

    Please bear in mind, American public, these cherry-picked reality police episodes are blessedly not reflective of any definition of “real policing.” This is the tabloid version. The tens of thousands of recorded proper police actions are all piled deep on the cutting room floor.

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Phil: I think it was his intent to express the fact that he sees numerous incidents that are handled improperly by police. I know I often will share with him video to get his opinion and I think there are a lot problems and we will see that more now that every police agency is getting body worn cameras.

    2. Davis Progressive

      phil – with all due respect the point is obvious.  even when the tv cameras or body worn cameras are on, there are massive and egregious constitutional violations occurring on a regular basis.  the fact that no one is trying to hide it means they don’t think there is a problem or that they doing wrong.  not good.

  2. Tia Will

    the shooting probably was justified”

    at least on initial accounts, there was a gun there.”

    We have in this country a second amendment which provides many of us with the right to “have a gun there”.  The two quotes from Chief Pytel, plus the right to bear arms, plus the frequently heard justification “I feared for my life” seem to me to represent an almost inevitable recipe for needless loss of life. Here I am not speaking of the Milwaukee shooting but rather of the example of Mr. Castile, a man allegedly shot while attempting to comply with officer instructions when the officer became alarmed due to the knowledge that the detainee lawfully had a gun.

    An armed citizenry, and police trained to shoot first when they “feel afraid” is surely an ongoing reliable source of tragedy which does seem to have disparate impact on different communities.

     

  3. Tia Will

    Question for Phil or anyone who wants to respond.

    But video from the police vehicle painted a different story showing that Mr. McDonald, who had a knife, was walking away from the officers — parallel to them — when he was shot 16 times by Mr. Van Dyke.  Mr. Van Dyke was charged with murder last November.” 

    I am truly confused. If there is evidence that murder was committed here and if the witnesses  ( fellow police officer/ partner ) lied about what occurred, since when is the penalty for that action being fired ? If a friend or a family member were to similarly lie, would not the likely action be to charge him with being an accessory to the murder, or some such crime carrying significantly stronger penalties than being fired ?  It would seem to me that here we have one standard for the police, even in the commission of a serious crime, and a completely different standard for the public which would seem to me to be a clear breech of equality under the law. Can you explain ?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      One thing is that the police are not conducting the criminal investigation. The inspector General did an investigation. The DOJ is doing one. Criminal charges could come out of those investigations. All CPD can do at this point is terminate employees. That doesn’t mean they won’t be criminally charged later.

    2. PhillipColeman

      I’ve not looked at the video and I’ll try to reply to the specific circumstance of a “retreating danger” without any suggestion this was the case with McDonald.

      The applicable police policy is commonly termed “escalation of force,” where law enforcement officers are legally justified in escalating use of force in response to the suspect’s initiative to remain hostile or increase his/her hostilities. So in an instance when there is a police/citizen stand-off, both with firearms in hand, a recognized retreat by the citizen reduces the eminent threat. Consequently, should the officer(s) shoot the retreating suspect, this would be a violation of the use of force policy because the threat was de-escalating and the police unnecessarily increased force by lethal means.

  4. Eric Gelber

    Encouraging words. A national political figure recently said, “The problem in our poorest communities … is that there are not enough police.” I think Chief Pytel’s words support the contrary position–that what’s needed is not more policing but better policing.

    1. Tia Will

      The problem in our poorest communities….”

      The problem in our poorest communities is that they are poor. They are economically poor, they tend to be poor in opportunity, in education, in nutrition, in access to health care, in stability and in positive examples of how to plan and build a productive and contributory future for the individual and their family and neighbors.

      We tend to focus on the individual crime and policing rather than on the systemic problem that lies at the heart of crime and drug use. But pointing fingers at individuals, whether they are civilian criminals or police criminals will do little to address the systemic problem that we want to individualize…..the existence of poverty in a nation with so much wealth that we could rid ourselves of poverty if we chose to.

  5. Davis Progressive

    interesting comments from the chief.  the usual suspects usually counter that this is all in the head of political agitators.  the chief seems to disagree.  most of the usual suspects have remained quite.  the comment by pytel on milwaukee mirrored that of the vanguard.

    1. Barack Palin

      the usual suspects usually counter that this is all in the head of political agitators

      I think it’s more of a case that this horse has been beaten enough on the Vanguard and some of the usual suspects as you put it have most likely grown weary and know that people that look under every rock and make it their  purpose in life to promote racism aren’t going to change.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Shouldn’t it be relevant that a police chief is providing you with a different perspective than the one you have? Don’t you update your views based on new information?

  6. Biddlin

    “You have understand these cops know they are on camera – yet it doesn’t change their behavior.  That means that’s institutionalized bad behavior.”

    “The departments that are facing the biggest problems – it’s not a cop.  It’s that department that’s a problem.” “The stuff that came out of Ferguson – are you kidding me – it sounded like they were extorting the public.  I actually think that’s what they were doing,”

    I couldn’t have said it better, myself and I have.

    Wow, is this just another cop hater, BP?

    “Remember, everyone has biases,” he added. “Cops just can’t let them interfere with how they police.”

    To the chief: You may be stirring up a hornets nest. Good luck.

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